Sailing: U.S. team capsizes in America’s Cup challenger series

United States challenger American Magic capsized and was at risk of sinking after attempting a high risk maneuver in a squall Sunday on the third day of racing in the America’s Cup challenger series. A frantic joint effort involving firemen, police, coastguard and American Magic’s rival teams immediately began to save the yacht Patriot and to keep the U.S. team in the regatta. Defender Team New Zealand and challengers Luna Rossa and Team UK hurried to aid the American team, saving sails and equipment and assisting desperate attempts to keep Patriot afloat. As night drew in, the American yacht had begun to settle in the water, even as mobile pumps worked furiously to empty the hull, suggesting it may have been holed when it crashed onto its side while leading a race against Luna Rossa. Patriot was surrounded by chase boats and tenders as efforts were made to stabilize the yacht, and eventually to attempt the 10-mile (16.09 kilometers) tow from the racecourse back to its base in downtown Auckland. At one time Patriot’s deck was awash and the bow submerged but later the hull of the boat rose again from the water. Divers had been used to identify damage and then, apparently, to rig a sling under the hull to prevent the $80 million yacht from sinking. In darkness, the long, slow tow back to American Magic’s Auckland base began. Rival teams had even ferried pizza from downtown Auckland to fortify the American crew.

American Magic was chasing its first win in the Prada Cup after three straight losses and rounded the last mark ahead of Luna Rossa when disaster struck. A savage gust of wind in a rain squall ahead of impending thunderstorms struck the American yacht broadside which soared into the air, then crashed heavily onto its side, likely driving the port foil into the hull. None of the crew was injured and all were recovered safely. In a statement, American Magic said, “the U.S. challenger for the America’s Cup capsized in a strong gust of wind while leading around the final mark in a Prada Cup race. All team members on board where quickly accounted for by the team’s on-the-water safety personnel and declared safe. The team’s AC75 racing yacht Patriot was damaged during the incident and began taking on water. American Magic received rapid assistance from the three other America’s Cup teams along with … race management, Coastguard New Zealand, the Auckland harbormaster and local fire and police personnel. American Magic is sincerely thankful for all of the assistance rendered to the team following today’s incident.”

During an hours-long salvage operation, inflatable bags or buoys were used to keep the yacht on the surface and it was eventually lifted upright to allow sails to be lowered and removed. At first the wind dropped and the sea state improved to aid salvage efforts. The sails later were raised again as Patriot seemed to settle, its decks awash. If the yacht can be saved, American Magic has four days to repair Patriot before the next round of racing begins on Friday or could choose to race its first generation race boat, an extremely risky step which would likely place it at a disadvantage against its rivals.

Sunday’s incident was not the first time an American team has suffered a dramatic setback during America’s Cup racing off Auckland. During the 1999-2000 race the New York Yacht Club-backed yacht Young America cracked open while leading a race in rough weather. Skipper Ed Baird ordered the crew to abandon ship and all were plucked to safety. The boat also was saved. In 1995 the Australian yacht OneAustralia broke its back and sank rapidly in racing off San Diego.

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